ATLANTA – The Atlanta Falcons have been on a pretty good roll during the second half of the season – and they picked up some more steam on Sunday by thumping the Jaguars 24-12.
Atlanta (6-9) did it using a proven formula for success in the NFL: Solid defense and a steady run game.
The Falcons are now 5-2 since their bye week back on Nov. 3, a run that includes stunning road wins over the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers – plus a sweep of the Carolina Panthers. If they can knock off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next Sunday, Atlanta will wrap up its 2019 season with a 7-9 mark for the second straight year.
So how did the Falcons beat Jacksonville and what does it all mean? Here are some quick thoughts on the 12-point win:
Where was this defense in September?
It's no secret that the Falcons' defense has played much better as of late – forcing turnovers and getting to the quarterback – and that unit's turnaround is perhaps the biggest reason for this team's recent success.
It continued again against the Jags.
Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett each picked up sacks on Sunday. Beasley, who now has eight sacks this season, has piled up 5.5 of those since the bye week. Jarrett has 6.5 sacks on the year with 3.5 coming in the last seven games.
The defensive highlight of the afternoon came late in the fourth quarter when the defense held the Jaguars on downs, thwarting a 15-play, 60-yard drive to preserve the 12-point lead. The Falcons took over and ran out the clock.
Prior to the bye week, the Falcons surrendered 250 points in their first eight games for an average of 31.3 points per game. For some perspective here, the Miami Dolphins entered Week 16 ranked last in the league by allowing 31.1 points per game. Before Sunday's win over the Jaguars, the Falcons had only surrendered 115 points in their last six games for a stingy 19.2 points per game.
That average now drops to 18.1 points per game. That's quite a turnaround.
The running game has more than a pulse
Let's face it, the Falcons' running game has been inconsistent in 2019, and that's probably being kind. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta's top back who entered the season healthy again, hasn't had a single 100-yard game all season long.
But when the Falcons can run, their offense is much more effective. And on Sunday, the Falcons' running game had some giddy-up its step, combining for 135 yards on 27 carries and a pair of touchdowns. Freeman finished with 53 yards on 13 carries but three of his runs – for 18, 9 and 18 yards – were called back due to penalties.
Brian Hill led the way with 66 yards on seven carries.
Again, it wasn't a dominant performance on the ground, but it was good enough to help the Falcons outgain the Jaguars in first downs (28 to 17), in time of possession (33:07 to 26:53) and total yardage (518 to 288).
This just in: Matt and Julio are pretty good
The Falcons signal caller surpassed 4,000 passing yards for the ninth-consecutive season. That streak, as Will McFadden noted in his story, is now the second-longest in NFL history breaking a tie with Peyton Manning, who had 4,000 passing yards in eight-straight seasons. Ryan trails just Drew Brees, who reached that total for 12-straight seasons between 2006-17. Brees did not reach 4,000 passing yards last season, and he had only 2,447 passing yards entering Sunday's games, making it extremely unlikely he will do so again.
Jones became the fastest receiver in NFL history to reach 12,000 career receiving yards during the third quarter, surpassing Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, Jones did it in his 125th career game, in 17 fewer games than Rice did.
I said back in August and I'll say it again, you are witnessing the Golden Age of Falcons offense. Drink it in, folks.
What the win means
The Falcons are now 6-9 and sit in third place of the NFC South. The Saints sit atop the division at 12-3 and next week's opponent, the Buccaneers, are 7-9 and in second place. The Panthers are currently in fourth at 5-10. As of Sunday afternoon, the Falcons would end up with the 13th pick in the NFL Draft (if the season were to end today), according to Tankathon.com.
Get an inside look at Atlanta Falcons vs. Jacksonville Jaguars with top photos from the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Week 16